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The vote on a livestock siting bill fast-tracked by Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature was canceled Feb. 19.

MADISON — The vote on a livestock siting bill fast-tracked by Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature was canceled Feb. 19, just one day before it was scheduled to be voted on by the Assembly during their final day of session for the year.

On Feb. 10, Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, and Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, circulated legislation to improve livestock facility siting rules and statutes.

The legislators touted the bill as “a collaborative effort between agriculture groups and local government associations,” crafted with input from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Pork Producers, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants; Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Counties Association.

Marklein said one of the stakeholders raised on issue that he and the bill’s co-authors could not overcome in time to complete the bill during this session, prompting the cancellation of the vote.

“The change they requested would have impacted local control and I was not willing to create an imbalance in this legislation,” he said in a news release. “Our original proposal was a good bill that gave farmers certainty and predictability while maintaining local control. This was my goal from the beginning of the process.”

Even if the proposal had passed the Legislature, it’s likely Gov. Tony Evers would have vetoed it.

In 2018, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection began looking at changes to ATCP51, the administrative rule that regulates the local government approval for new or expanding livestock facilities in Wisconsin, as the rule dictates a mandatory four-year technical review. Twelve public hearings were held across the state in 2019, prompting hundreds of comments from citizens and organizations alike.

Shortly after DATCP staff presented revisions to the rule, sifting through public comment to thoughtfully craft those revisions, the department decided it would no longer move forward with the proposed changes. And just days after that announcement, Brad Pfaff, Evers’ pick for secretary of agriculture, was ousted by the Wisconsin Legislature.

In early February of this year, the DATCP board let the 30 month deadline expire, ending discussion about ATCP51 at the department level. It appears that after this decision, legislators began working on their own bill to address livestock siting within the state.

The state’s current livestock siting rule, overseen by DATCP, went into effect in 2006 and hasn’t been changed since its adoption.

Technical committees have undertaken a review of the rules in 2010 and 2014, as well as recently in 2018.

Currently, the agriculture department writes siting and expansion regulations subject to approval by the governor and Legislature. Under the proposed bill, the department would have needed permission from a new nine-member board before it could begin drafting any such regulations. Five members of the board would be selected from agricultural groups.

Other ag bills

The Wisconsin State Assembly approved eight bills designed boost Wisconsin’s dairy industry Feb. 20, its final scheduled day in session for the year.

The Assembly passed a farm aid package that includes elements of what Evers wanted but goes farther by cutting taxes for farmers by $30 million a year and another $6 million for self-employed people. Evers hasn’t said whether he will go along with those tax cuts, which also must win approval from the Senate. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said senators were “picking and choosing” what they like from the farm aid package to vote on in March. He didn’t elaborate.

The Assembly also approved a trio of bills that would prohibit labeling food as meat, milk or dairy if it doesn’t contain those products.

One proposal would ban labeling or selling a product as meat unless it includes animal flesh. Eleven other states already have such a ban. The other two bills would ban labeling a beverage as milk unless it comes from cows, goats or certain other animals and labeling a product as cream, yogurt or cheese unless it includes dairy. Those two proposals would take effect only if 10 other Midwest states approve similar prohibitions by 2031.

The Assembly was giving final approval to bills that already passed the Senate or making proposals available for it to vote on next month. The Senate plans to return for one final day in March. A bill must pass both the Senate and Assembly in identical form for it to go to Evers.

None of the bills had passed the Senate as of press time.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.